Retail Drudgery At The End Of The World

High Some decent character stories.

Low Poor pacing and barebones gameplay make getting to the stories a chore.

WTF Pretty much everything hippopotamus-related.


No matter how many mean things I say about Flat Eye over the course of this review, I want readers
to know right off the bat that I think its decision to make the UI diegetic is kinda genius. As a new ‘manager’ for the remote Iceland outlet of the omnipresent Flat Eye corporation, the player is given an in- game desktop with a number of different apps to track their progress, as well as a camera feed to their store — it clearly resembles the isometric view of a resource management or RTS game.

The player is tasked with assisting a mysterious AI — the controller of Flat Eye corp. — who wishes to understand humanity and determine its future. To further this goal, the AI gives the player a bevy of tasks that take the form of quests.

From this distanced perspective, the player is asked to make cutthroat decisions about which new
dystopian products they should start selling to maximize profits (an assisted suicide booth, perhaps?) or which worker they should hire. In a clever way, Flat Eye equates the dispassionate management sim gamer with the average capitalist middle manager, seeing in both the potential for an experience centered on what happens when a human being is forced to cooperate with a Machiavellian economic system that prioritizes cold, inhuman efficiency.

This system, Flat Eye seems to argue, is destined to fall into chaos and unpredictability. Not even the greatest AI humanity has ever seen can truly navigate this chaos without a human touch. This notion is
argued with reasonable skill through Flat Eye‘s first act, but as the story continues to progress, the
careful balance between story and gameplay begins to fall apart. The problem is that gameplay just isn’t that deep to begin with.

The protagonist controls a single clerk who can place new features in the store to generate cash or energy. As each day progresses, customers file in and out of the store, and it’s up to the clerk to ensure they are happy by placing sufficient features to prevent long lineups, and repairing features regularly to prevent breakdowns. I will admit that this is a tough ask at the start, when the player also has to find time to manually work the cash register. I would often have to choose between repairing a critical structure and ringing up a product, and doing one meant the other customer was pissed.

On one of these early days, almost every structure in my store lost power due to my poor panicky management, making my clerk resign and all my customers leave. Ironically, I loved this moment. It left me feeling quite optimistic about Flat Eye as a simulation! Sadly, as soon as the player unlocks self-serve cash on the tech tree, this sense of tension more-or-less vanishes. After that, gameplay usually consists of hitting fast-forward and watching cash pile up while occasionally placing new structures and left-clicking on the ones that need repair.

One can dig into all the technical minutiae in order to maximize profits — there’s a screen that shows the number of customers waiting at each station, for example — but there’s no point given how easy it is to coast through. Flat Eye‘s story progression is largely tied to purchasing and placing new structures from the tech tree, which attracts “Premium Customers” who converse with the player in a visual novel format. When talking with them, the player can pick dialogue options and make decisions that impact the lives of these characters (and, eventually, the ending the player will get).

These character storylines areā€¦ a mixed bag. They range from interesting Black Mirror-inspired dystopia diversions like the lady who’s been drugged into thinking she’s a hippopotamus, to rambling yarns with poor control over their tone. If Flat Eye was just a visual novel, this extreme variance in quality might be tolerable. However, the problem is that to trigger these conversations and move the story forward, the player needs to acquire Tech Points to spend on the skill tree. These points are acquired by leveling up the manager, which is done by acquiring ‘stars’ from their end-of-day corporate evaluation.

I found it quite easy to get four to five stars at the end of almost every day — many of the randomized side missions that grant bonus stars require no effort, and the daily expected revenue only tracks the player’s total money on hand, not the money that has been exclusively generated that day. This means that I could just sell a bunch of high-value items to reach the required revenue for that day, and then just coast until closing time.

Power failures, clerk deaths or resignations all cease to matter at a certain point and Flat Eye becomes a waiting game, forcing the player to trudge through an agonizing gauntlet of empty days as they kill time while waiting to level up so they can advance the story by one more notch. Flat Eye had something good going for it at the beginning, with its frantic pace rubbing uncomfortably against its aesthetics of antiseptic capitalism, but by the time I approached the end, I felt like my time as a player was being wasted.

One could argue that my boredom was an intended result of Flat Eye‘s ludonarrative theming, but I just don’t buy it and that diegetic UI just wasn’t enough — I’ll be taking my business elsewhere.

Rating: 4.5 out of 10

— Breton Campbell


Disclaimers: This game is developed by Monkey Moon and published by Raw Fury. It is currently
available on PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 8 hours of play were spent in the game’s single-player mode, and the game was
completed
. There are no multiplayer modes.

According to the ESRB, the game is rated T and contains Drug Reference, Violence, Suggestive
Themes
, and Use of Tobacco. The violent scenes mainly involve the accidental deaths of clerks, and are
fairly non-explicit. The other references to mature content are mainly contained in the story sections, and
there is also an in-game option to toggle off disturbing content.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes.

Deaf & Hard at Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered or resized.
Given that all the dialogue is subtitled and clear visual cues are given for every action in the game, it can
easily be completed without sound. This game is fully accessible.

Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.

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